Is your dog whining constantly? Is she crying for attention? Do you have an older dog who is whining for no apparent reason? A dog that cries at night? Or a dog that’s whining in her crate?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, we can help. We have tips to help you stop your dog from whining, whatever the cause may be.
Read on to learn how to deal with a whining dog.
Why Do Dogs Whine (or Whimper)?
Whining is one of a dog’s natural ways of communicating. Like children, puppies learn early that a whine gets mom to pay attention to them and (often) give them what they want.
If you don’t teach them better ways of asking, dogs will continue to use whimpering to get your attention. It’s what comes naturally.
Animal behaviorists believe that adult dogs also whine for any of the following reasons:
A Physical Need
Does your dog need to go out? Is she hungry or thirsty? Is there a lump in her bed that makes resting uncomfortable? These questions seem elementary, but sometimes when our dogs seem distressed, we worry so much that we overlook the simple things.
Dogs in pain will often whine. Surprisingly, chronic pain—pain that is constant or prolonged, like arthritic pain—rarely causes whining. Whining or whimpering from pain is more likely to mean she has an acute issue or injury. Don’t ignore it.
If your dog is showing other undesirable behaviors—such as chewing, digging, or excessive barking—in addition to whining, she may have anxiety issues.
If these behaviors happen only when you’re not home, she may be suffering from separation anxiety.
If your dog is displaying any of these behaviors, be concerned. In dogs with extreme anxiety issues, these behaviors could become compulsive and even lead to obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Other behaviors that you should watch out for include prolonged tail chasing, licking her paws raw, and snapping at invisible flies.
Many dogs whine during thunderstorms, firework displays, or other loud noises such as gunshots. This type of whining or crying is normal behavior for about half of all dogs.
A Change in the Household
Has the household lost or added a family member? Dogs can have a tough time adapting to a favorite family member going off to college or a new baby entering the family.
Have you adopted a new pet recently? This can be particularly distressing to a dog who’s used to being the only pet in the family. Getting used to sharing the attention is likely to take some time.
While constant dog whining is most often a sign of distress in an adult dog, some dogs whine when they’re excited or happy. They will often do this when a guest arrives or a family member returns home.
According to the American Kennel Club (AKC), excited whines are usually easy to distinguish because they either drop in pitch toward the end or maintain an even tone. A whine from pain or distress will typically rise in pitch.
Some dogs fail to grow out of the puppy habit of whining for attention. This is the most common cause of dog whining and usually means that your dog wants something from you—food, playtime, cuddling, etc.
A highly active or intelligent breed that is not getting enough exercise or mental stimulation may whine out of sheer boredom. Most dogs were bred for a particular purpose—hunting, herding, guarding, etc.—and not for companionship alone (like most toy breeds). In other words, they were designed to work.
While few dogs today do what they were initially bred for, they have maintained their need for exercise and to use their minds.
If your dog is whining at night, especially if she sleeps in a crate, she could be whining because she’s lonely. If you’ve recently brought her home, she probably needs some time to adjust to being alone at night.
Ironically, if your dog does not sleep in a crate, nighttime crating would be worth a try. Many dogs like to sleep in a crate because it makes them feel secure. It could make being isolated at night less stressful for her.
Some dogs even like to have the crate covered with a blanket to create the feeling of a den. You could always leave the door open if you don't need or want to contain her.
Your dog could simply be expressing her frustration at not having (or getting) something she wants. If you give in to this type of “demand” whining, you will only be reinforcing the behavior, and she will repeat it.
If you can identify what it is she wants, use it as a training opportunity. Don’t respond immediately but give it to her as a reward after she has been quiet for a time.
Some under-confident dogs indulge in submissive dog whining during interaction with strangers or when they encounter other dogs. You will see this accompanied by other submissive behaviors, such as head down, tail between the legs, and eyes averted.
These types of behavior are often called appeasement gestures. Dogs typically direct appeasement behaviors at an aggressive or dominant dog (or person). Their purpose is for the dog displaying the behaviors to show the other dog that they are not a threat.
According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), there are quite a few appeasement behaviors dogs might use.
They include avoiding eye contact, flattening their ears, tucking their tail between their legs, rolling over onto their back, or crouching. They may also turn their bodies sideways so they’re not facing the threat head-on.
Older dogs may whine for several reasons. They may be reacting to the normal aches and pains of the aging process. They could be confused because of cognitive decline and confusion. Or they could be whining because of anxiety over a decline in vision or hearing.
11 Tips to Eliminate Whining
After you figure out why your dog is doing it, try one or more of the following suggestions to stop your dog's whining.
1. Deal with any Medical Issues
If your dog’s whining is sudden in onset, she may be in pain. Some painful conditions show few external signs. You should make an appointment with your vet right away, as some conditions (such as gastric torsion, also called bloat) are medical emergencies.
Dr. Pat Miller suggests that if you think your dog is in pain but your vet can’t identify a cause, talk to them about prescribing a Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug (NSAID) like carprofen for a short trial.
If your dog’s whining and other symptoms seem to improve on the drug, but the behavior begins again when he's off the medication, then you'll know your dog is in pain.
2. Ignore Your Dog
For some dogs, ignoring the behavior may be enough to stop it. Simply turn your back on her and withdraw your attention. Don’t scold her or tell her to stop first; in her mind, even negative attention is better than none.
3. Train Her
If ignoring doesn’t work, try reward-based training techniques. Most dogs can be trained not to whine.
The trick here is to time rewards just right. You want to wait until she stops whining, then praise and treat her when she’s quiet.
4. Redirect Her
Teach her another behavior for situations when she’s likely to whine. Mikkel Becker of VetStreet suggests a kibble hunt in the yard, for example, or a filled Kong or food puzzle to occupy her.
A word of caution, however: You need to be very careful not to offer her something positive if she’s already whining. Your dog will see that as a reward for whining, and you will have reinforced the negative behavior.
Another option is to train her to do a down-stay in a location where she feels secure. Practice it often and use it for storms and fireworks. It may calm her.
5. Build Confidence
Confidence-building is the best way to deal with appeasement whining, which is a natural behavior for dogs. Most training activities—obedience, agility, trick training, for example—will do wonders for your dog’s confidence.
Using positive reinforcement techniques is essential for confidence-building training. Punishment methods will make your dog more submissive, which will only increase her whining.
It can also cause fear and anxiety, which will likely cause more problem behaviors, especially in a dog that lacks confidence or is anxious to begin with.
6. Increase Exercise
If your dog’s whining is due to lack of exercise, see that she gets more.
All dogs, no matter their size or breed, need exercise. Some breeds require more than others, but exercise is vital to a dog's long-term health and well-being.
If no one is home during the day to exercise your dog, you should compensate for that in any way you can. Try getting up earlier in the mornings to walk your dog for a good 30 minutes before she is left alone for the day.
This routine will do wonders toward alleviating daytime boredom.
Consider hiring a neighbor to walk her once during the day, either midday or after school. She should also have a walk before bed.
Walks are vitally important to dogs, as both exercise and boredom busters. They also allow them to do what comes naturally to a dog—sniffing.
Keeping her busy may help with your dog’s whining and any other problem behaviors she may have, and she’ll love you for it.
7. Enrichment Her Environment
Mental stimulation is equally as critical to a dog’s well-being as exercise. Again, some breeds need more than others, but all dogs need opportunities to use their minds.
Interactive toys and food puzzles are great enrichment aids when your dog is home alone. Buy several and rotate them every few days.
Training sessions are also learning opportunities that most dogs enjoy. Obedience training or trick training would also be great bonding sessions for the two of you.
Canine sports, again, are great for confidence-building as well as exercise and mental stimulation. Even games of tug or fetch at home with family members will make a difference.
Again, if she’s kept busy and engaged, the nuisance whining may stop.
8. Teach Hand Targeting
What is hand targeting?
If your dog is an excited whiner when guests arrive, this tip is for you. The ASPCA recommends an interesting way to teach your dog to be calm during greetings—teach her hand targeting.
Hand targeting is the process of your dog touching her nose to an outstretched palm during a greeting. The ASPCA recommends using the command say hello for this behavior.
How Is It Done?
Here are their step-by-step recommendations for how to train your dog to hand target:
- With your dog sitting in front of you, hold an outstretched palm in front of her face. Then wait without saying anything and give her a chance to touch her nose to your palm.
Keep your hand still; let her come to you. If she doesn’t after a few minutes, rub your palm with a good-smelling treat and try it again.
The instant she touches your palm, say, “Yes!” (or “Good!” or any marking word you like). Give her a treat from your other hand.
Repeat the behavior until she does it nine times out of 10. Remember to say “Yes!” and treat each time.
- Now move your hand around a bit. Get her to touch it in different positions. You want her to have to move toward your palm in order to touch it. Try lowering it toward the floor, holding it off to one side or the other, and lastly, above her head.
- When she's doing this correctly nine times out of 10, add the verbal command “say hello” or whatever you’d like to use. Give the command first, then hold out your hand for the dog to touch your palm. Remember to continue marking and treating every time she does it right.
- Begin practicing this with family members and visitors who come to the door. Keep treating at this point.
- When she has that down reliably, start to use the behavior outdoors on walks. When another walker approaches your dog (or a friend you may have enlisted to help), ask them to give the hand signal rather than trying to pet her. You (or they) can give the “say hello” command at the same time.
At this point, the ASPCA warns that you will want to teach your dog to do this only when someone stretches their palm to her. Otherwise, she might “say hello” to everyone she meets, hoping for a treat.
Incidentally, hand targeting is an excellent behavior to teach any dog. It’s the foundation for a lot of fun “trick” behaviors.
9. Treat Anxiety or Fear
If you think your dog has an anxiety issue, work with your vet. Determine whether your dog could be dealing with separation anxiety or a compulsive anxiety problem.
If she displays anxious behaviors but no full-blown separation anxiety, you may want to try separation anxiety preventive measures.
If you and your vet determine that she has separation anxiety, your vet may recommend dealing with it with training.
If her anxiety is severe, they may suggest medication. You should weigh the possible side effects very seriously against your dog’s quality of life. She won’t be able to tell you if she’s suffering from any unpleasant side effects.
Calming products are another intervention worth considering for anxious dogs. There are supplements and other products on the market that can make a difference.
Here are three you could try:
Cannabinoid (CBD) products. There’s not a lot of research on CBD use for dogs yet, but many dog owners swear by them. These products help calm anxiety (and several medical conditions) without getting your dog “high.” They are available in chew, drop, and liquid forms.
If you would like to investigate CBD products for your dog, talk to your vet first, then research carefully. Be sure the product you’re looking at is legal in your state. (CBD products are legal at the federal level, but not yet in all states).
You will also want to buy from a reliable source, as product quality and effectiveness can vary greatly. The AKC recommends not skimping on price. Lower-priced products may contain ineffective or toxic ingredients.
Dog-appeasing pheromones. DAP works by mimicking the smell of a lactating mother. Many dogs find them comforting.
At least one study has found them to help significantly with stress behaviors caused by anxiety, frustration, and panic related to separation from their owners.
Another has found DAP to be effective in treating phobias due to loud noise (such as fireworks and thunderstorms). DAP is available in collar, spray, and diffuser forms.
Anxiety vests. Again, there isn’t much research on whether anxiety vests work, but many dog owners are adamant that they do. Common brand names are ThunderShirt, the Original Anxiety Wrap, and Calm Coat.
These vests wrap around your dog in the same way you would swaddle a baby. They work by providing gentle pressure to your dog's body that releases endorphins to calm her.
Watch for OCD Symptoms
Again, you’ll also want to rule out OCD-type behaviors, as obsessive-compulsive disorder can be a severe quality-of-life to issue for dogs.
Treatment for OCD may require the help of a certified trainer or behaviorist.
10. Treat Cognitive Decline
If your dog is whining because of the disorientation that sometimes comes with age, ask your vet if medication would be appropriate. Vets sometimes prescribe the drug Anipryl (selegiline hydrochloride) for cognitive dysfunction syndrome in older dogs.
There are supplements and other medications available that can treat some of your dog's symptoms. Your vet may want to combine medicine with behavioral therapy to make your dog's golden years more comfortable.
11. Call in an Expert
Finally, if nothing seems to be working, it is time to call in help. Your vet may be able to recommend a certified dog trainer who can help with your dog’s whining.
If your dog has more serious underlying issues, like anxiety, you may need a certified dog behaviorist instead. Behaviorists have more education and deal with more complex problems than trainers.
Helpful Online Dog Training Resource:
A Final Word
Constant dog whining can be hard to deal with. Your first step must be to ensure that it’s not related to a medical problem. The gradual elimination of all the other causes should help you identify the problem. You can then make your dog more comfortable and your home more peaceful.
- ASPCA. Behavior problems in older dogs.
- Becker, Mikkel. VetStreet. Your dog’s whining decoded.
- Bowen, J.; Heath, S. Behaviour problems in small animals: Practical advice for the veterinary team. Elsevier Health Sciences.
- Buzhardt, Lynn, DVM. VCA Hospitals. Anxiety vests for dogs.
- Khuly, Patty, VMD. VetStreet. Why does my dog…cry?
- Kim, Young-Mee et al. “Efficacy of dog-appeasing pheromone (DAP) for ameliorating separation-related behavioral signs in hospitalized dogs.” The Canadian veterinary journal = La revue veterinaire canadienne vol. 51,4 (2010): 380-4.
- Miller, Pat, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA. Whole Dog Journal. Ways to stop a dog from whining.